The wild West Coast of Vancouver Island in Bamfield
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Through 2018, ZenSeekers is teaming up with partners the Port Alberni region. Our correspondents will bring you exceptional video, photos and stories to inspire you to #ExploreBC and have your very own #ExplorePortAlberni adventures.
Written and photographed by Chris Istace
Have you thought about what life was like on Vancouver Island when things were a little more rugged, a little more remote and life moved at a slower pace? I recently experienced just that, and I didn’t have to time travel to do it.
Bamfield is a remote oceanside community along the western shores of Vancouver Island where a tightknit community lives at the mouth of the Alberni Inlet, which opens to Barkley Sound and the powerful Pacific Ocean. It is on the traditional lands of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation. My soul comes to life in places like this, where the rugged and wild still exist for anyone seeking adventure.
The first thing you’ll notice on your way into town is the sign for the Pacific Rim National park and the trailhead for the West Coast Trail. Bamfield is where you either start or end this bucket list hike. Next on the way into town is the large Pacheena Bay campground with its protected sandy beaches; dreamlike and beautiful, it's wonderful place to stay in Bamfield.
Our first stop was at the historic location of the Commonwealth “Red Line” Telegraph station. This 6,437-km underwater communication line made its connection to North America right here in Bamfield in 1902. I didn’t know such a key piece of history was in my own backyard. The telegraph station closed in closed in 1959 and in 1972, the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre (BMSC) opened and was our intended destination.
AT BMSC, we met our guide and local business owner Marnie McAughtrie. Marnie and her husband were drawn to Bamfield for the sense of community and the amazing natural setting. They loved the town so much they bought the local Bamfield Mercantile store and never left.
“We continue to be amazed by the kind, open-hearted nature of Bamfield,” said Marnie.
We met more locals, Ron Hannay and Bonnie Mackay, as we began our tour of the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre. The renowned marine biology research station is run by five western Canadian universities. Kelly Clement, the field trip instructor at BMSC took us on a tour. Public tours of BMSC run in July and August, though visitors are welcome to stop by and see the aquaria any time. The official tours also include learning the history of Bamfield and BMSC – even crazy cat ladies. These are some of the fun things you wouldn't otherwise learn if you don’t have a guide.
One of the highlights was the “touch tanks.” Putting my hands in the water to feel an anemone or pick up a sea urchin was quite the sensation.
Kelly rhymed off all the reasons she loves this area. “Hiking, fishing, camping, whale watching, surfing, storm-watching, First Nations culture, wildlife viewing, beach combing.... plus, it's just fun having to take a boat to get to the grocery store!”
The water taxi transported us to west Bamfield, unique because the village can only be accessed by boat on the west side of town across the Bamfield Inlet. Centuries of fishing heritage come to life – from the early settler’s homes to the incredible Canadian Coast Guard Outpost. Be sure to stop in for a tour of the coast guard station
The Bamfield Mercantile store is the hub for the west “Bamphibians” as they jokingly call themselves. We sat on the boardwalk enjoying a drink and fresh cooked pizza from the store.
We headed to the beloved Brady’s Beach, a long-time local recreation area. Facing out into Barkely Sound, it’s a chance to relax, explore, swim or play games. The locals have built a driftwood stage for impromptu jam sessions.
We had a wonderful breakfast at the Market Café and then travelled like the locals, taking a water taxi back to the west side, where we met Heather Cooper, a volunteer with the Bamfield Historical Society. Bamfield’s history is filled with incredible stories of all the homes along the boardwalk. The wooden boardwalk was built in the 1940s and is maintained by the Department of Highways, a unique tidbit of info.
Take a self-guided tour looking for the 12 new Heritage Signs around town. In 2012, Heather and Judith Phillips wrote Bamfield Houses, which tells the history through its dwellings and the people who lived there.
“Visitors would enjoy coming to Bamfield to escape the boredom of contrived tourism experiences in exchange for being in an environment that offers a glimpse of life in a wild, natural setting,” Heather said.
Our tour ended and we saw the past meet the present when the freight ship MC Frances Barkley docked. Although not as critical before the Bamfield Road was built in 1964, the freighter is a lifeline to the community. It brings mail, supplies, groceries and passengers. Consider taking the MV Frances Barkley all the way from Port Alberni to visit instead of driving to Bamfield.
Taking our final water taxi back to East Bamfield all I thought about were the plans for my next visit to explore more of this village and its charm, history and culture.
If You Go
Search #ExplorePortAlberni for more inspiration. Be sure to tag #ExplorePortAlberni while exploring the region as you could be featured on our social media channels!
Start planning your adventures in Port Alberni at Alberni Valley Tourism.
Find out more at the City of Port Alberni’s website.